NCAA Division III National Champions
Will the 2011 Linfield season ever be topped?
That's about the only question that remained to be answered in the wake of a historic season that included an NCAA-record 51 victories and 103 home runs, plus the program's second Division III national championship in five seasons.
"I couldn't be more proud of a group." said Wildcats coach Jackson Vaughan. "I have never had a team at Linfield where I let them openly talk about a national championship in the preseason. But with this team we addressed it right away as our primary goal because we lost only one starter from our 2010 team that came up just short in the national championship game. So anything less than a championship would have been a little bit disappointing for this team. They set their goals high and worked like national champions all season long to accomplish this amazing goal."
Ranked No. 1 in the NFCA poll from the start of the season until the finish for the first time in NCAA Division history, Linfield set new standards for team success.
The Wildcats demolished their own NCAA Division III mark for home runs in one season with 103 in 54 games, far surpassing the mark of 78 they set last season. The 'Cats also led the nation in batting average (.396), scoring (8.96 runs per game), and slugging percentage (.682).
At the NCAA Regional in Pella, Iowa, Linfield blitzed to the regional title, winning all four games it played and outscoring opponents 49-0 including a 10-0 victory over seventh-ranked Coe College and a 12-0 win against No. 5 Central College. In the tournament, the Wildcats produced a team batting average of .505 with eight home runs. Meanwhile, Linfield senior pitcher Claire Velaski dominated the tournament, going 4-0 with a 0.00 ERA and 21 strikeouts while only allowing six hits over 20 innings.
The Wildcats flew from Iowa to the NCAA National Championship Series in Salem, Va., where they won six of seven games, outscoring opponents 50-9. After falling 4-0 to Texas-Tyler to drop into the losers bracket, Linfield won four consecutive elimination games, including three in one day to reach the championship game against Christopher Newport. With the game tied 2-2 in the sixth inning, the 'Cats broke loose with a lead-off home run from Karleigh Prestianni before pulling away for a 6-2 victory and the program's second national championship in five seasons.
At the NCAA Finals, Prestianni led the way with six home runs, 21 RBIs, and a .567 batting average. First Team All-America catcher Emilee Lepp hit .500 with a team-best nine stolen bases. Linfield pitchers combined to post a 0.88 ERA, holding opponents to a paltry .167 batting average. Velaski finished the postseason with a 6-1 record and 0.67 ERA with 38 strikeouts. Lauren Harvey was 3-0 in five playoff appearances with a 0.74 ERA, 11 strikeouts, and no walks. Defensively, the Wildcats only committed six errors in 11 playoff contests.
The 'Cats broke over 40 school records, including total wins (51), batting average (.396), slugging percentage (.682), on-base percentage (.471), runs scored (484), home runs (103), RBIs (461), and shutouts (21).
First baseman Staci Doucette remained one of the most feared hitters in the country as she set single-season records for batting average (.532), on-base percentage (.653), and walks (45) while also contributing 21 home runs and 80 RBIs. Vern Marshall Award winner Emily Keagbine capped off an outstanding career in impressive fashion, finishing fourth nationally with 17 home runs while hitting .434 with 60 RBIs while anchoring the infield at shortstop.
Lepp enjoyed one of the finest individual seasons in NCAA Division III history. She set school and NCAA records for home runs with 29, eclipsing the old mark of 24. The all-around catcher also led the nation in RBIs (94), slugging percentage (1.089), and runs scored (74) while putting up a team-best 21 stolen bases. In Division III single-season history, Lepp finished first in home runs (29) and home runs per game (.537), second in RBIs, third in runs scored and fifth in hits.
Kayla Hubrich also enjoyed a career season, tying the Linfield single-season record for at-bats (201) while hitting .403 with four triples and 15 stolen bases.
Velaski set single-season standards for appearances (35) and wins (25). Harvey became the only pitcher in Linfield history with 10 or more decisions to complete a season with an unblemished record (16-0).
Lepp, Keagbine, Doucette, and Hubrich were all named first team NFCA?All-Americans while Prestianni was accorded second team honors and Velaski third team. Lepp was also honored as the NWC Player of the Year and Honda NCAA Division III Player of the Year.
"This team has to be considered among the great teams in NCAA Divison III history," said Vaughan. "With our pitching depth, great defense, and ability to hit for power and average it was one of the most talented teams I have seen during my coaching career. Combine that talent with the outstanding work ethic, great team chemistry, and full commitment to excellence this team displayed, and you have something very, very special."